Amanda Rockman, the executive pastry chef at The Bristol, is most definitely the hometown favorite for Bravo’s sophomore season of Top Chef Just Desserts, premièring Aug. 24. The Rising Pastry Chef award winner at 2011’s Jean Banchet Awards has studied her craft with many of the most innovative chefs in the industry including Gale Gand, Emily Luchetti, and her mentor Celine Plano before moving on to her own post with Chef Chris Pandel at The Bristol.
The A.V. Club spoke to Chef Rockman about Chicago’s food scene, Top Chef Just Desserts, and her role in Balena, the upcoming partnership between the Bristol and the Boka Group set to open this fall.
The A.V. Club: What inspired you throw to try out for Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2?
Amanda Rockman: I always thought I would never do something like this, and then I realized that I wasn’t doing it because it terrified me. I think a lot of personal growth comes from the need to do things that scare you, and I thought, “You know, I am going to go for it. I am going to do this,” even though I am really unsure about how I may react in certain situations.
AVC: This seems like a very high-pressure, high-stress situation. What’s your biggest fear going into the competition?
AR: In terms of the pressure, that doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I worked for two years at The Peninsula Hotel, where it was always a time crunch. There was always something happening on the fly or something bizarre that we had to make for a V.I.P. What seems kind of hard is the idea of letting some things go. I’m not using the equipment I am used to; I am not using products that I am used to. If a macaroon isn’t perfect because I can only make it perfect in my kitchen, I have to acknowledge the fact that it is what it is.
AVC: How are you preparing yourself for the competition?
AR: Going in, I think it’s going to be a lot of really picking and choosing your battles. I also think it’s about sticking to the things I like most and picking things I know can be manipulated to capture different flavors and forms. I have been reading a lot of books about chocolate work and sugar because I don’t feel that comfortable with it—in case they throw that at me. I also have a friend who does ice sculptures, so I spent a day with him. I have just been trying to figure out what I will be asked to do.
AVC: If Chicago was a dessert, what would we be?
AR: I think because we’re Midwest, it would be an American classic like a sundae.
AVC: You are going to be leading the pastry team at Balena, the upcoming collaboration between The Bristol and the Boka Group. What can we look forward to from that?
AR: Balena is going to be amazing. We have a lot of work to do still. From what I know, they are completing their design ideas. I mean from what it is—the Landmark space—to what it is going to be is going to be a huge transition. I am really excited about what we are going to be able to bring to the table as far as Italian-inspired cuisine and making it approachable for people living in the Midwest. For example, I am going to be doing a lot more gelatos and sorbets, which is a departure from The Bristol, because we don’t have an ice cream machine. It will be the place where I can make a sundae.
AVC: With a last name like “Rockman,” you must have a favorite album to rock in the kitchen, right?
AR: We listen to so much music. I will say that if I have a choice, I always play The Beatles.